Christmas 2013

The seasons they come and the seasons they go, and by the time this article is searched for and read, another snow-white Christmas will be on your doorstep.

Take my word for it, I’ve been around for three score years plus a double ten, and only once in those years do I remember witnessing a green Christmas.

That particular Christmas I remember well. It was not because of the gifts we got or lacked – it was an accident that happened on that particular day that claimed the life of one of our well cared for, much loved and badly needed horses.

It was one of the three look-alike chocolate brown geldings that we somehow acquired, four years earlier, when we moved from our stone cottage in Fergus to the R.R.#3 roughcast, well-aged, two-storey, cottage-roofed dwelling in Eramosa.

All three horses, Barney, Skipper and Jimmy, came from the former Beatty Farm on the western edge of Fergus, then owned by Cam Richardson. They were of mixed blood, believed to be thoroughbred X with Percheron. Jimmy was nervous and often kicked, so he was resold to a neighbour. Barney and Skipper were the quiet, quick-stepping work team. And work hard they did! Farming 50 acres with a single team was not easy.

Skipper loved kids and loved to be around them, so it was not unusual to see two, sometimes three of us riding bareback on him at any given time. This particular Christmas, the farm pond was frozen solid. Through the crystal clear ice you could see large pollywogs swimming and small minnows darting among the underwater plants.

Having no snow for sledding, an unusual number of neighbours had gathered around our pond-side bonfire, to sing, skate, roast marshmallows and munch heaps of home-grown popcorn that was shelled from the previously dried cobs and popped in a hand held screen shaker right there over the red coals. As usual, Barney and Skipper showed up to earn a nibble of popcorn by giving rides to any and all who wished to climb on.

As darkness fell, the pond was scraped clean, removing accumulated skate-shaved ice by hand with shovels, and then flooded with pails of water that came from a hole chopped in the ice at the edge of the skating area. Then everyone headed home to do respective chores.

Many returned after supper to skate by the romantic flickering light of a half  dozen strategically placed coal-oil lanterns.

Barney and Skipper stood stamping their feet, anxious to get back to the barn, as they knew that a fresh bundle of hay and a scoop of rolled oats, flavoured with molasses, awaited them. When given the usual slap on the rump, and a sucking click, click, click of the tongue telling them they were free go, they took off like a shot-at and missed pair of rabbits heading for the barn.

It was not unusual for them to race each other, with show-off bucking and kicking, when they knew that the warm stable and food waited. But on this particular winter day, as they turned sharply to head up the back lane that led to the barn, they both slipped on icy patches of a frozen mud puddle and went down. Wham! Wham! Their legs appeared tangled together.

You could hear their loud guttural grunts as they regained their breath, while struggling back to their feet, and again headed to the barn. But the story doesn’t end there.

Skipper walked with a bad limp – it was obvious he had hurt himself. We were soon to discover that he had split a front hoof. Two days later he went off of his feed, the vet was called, and he just sadly shook his head. Skipper had developed lockjaw – it was fatal, there was no cure.

But I remember, also, that it was the first year, tailing the Great Depression, that Santa was able to stuff a real Florida-grown orange in the tip of each of our hung-in-a-row stockings on Christmas Eve. The year was 1941, I was eight.

It is my wish, and I’m sure my Little Lady’s too, that each of you readers enjoy a very Merry Christmas.

Take care, ’cause we care.       




Barrie Hopkins